More on Improving Intonation With Drone Practice

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Believe it or not, I am not the only musician who believes that practicing with drone pitches is a great way to develop good intonation skills. Professional saxophonist and Alexander Technique teacher Bill Plake does, too.

If you’ve read more than a couple of posts on Practicing Flutist, my views on why you should practice intonation skills with a drone are pretty obvious. I love it when I find others doing the same things I am doing, but in a slightly different way or to develop different skills.

When I came across Bill Plake’s post about how he workes with a drone, I wanted to share them with you. He even uses drone practice as a way to encourage rhythmic variation in improvisation practice, more proof that the possibilities are endless! So check out this post from his blog on billplakemusic.org to get someone else’s viewpoint on drone practice.

http://billplakemusic.org/2015/08/30/a-highly-effective-and-really-fun-way-to-improve-your-ears/

Intonation Practice Exercise with a Drone 1

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If you’ve never done intonation exercises with a drone, here is a good way to get started.

First you need a drone generator. This is any device that will play and hold a steady pitch, the drone. Many tuners and tuner apps will sound pitches, electric pianos will sound a pitch as long as a key is depressed, or a cooperative musical friend can provide drone pitches (good practice for both of you!)

Now choose a scale that you are comfortable and confident playing. You want to be able to use your best sound throughout, so start with your best scale, if you have one.

Set the drone generator to the tonic or keynote of that scale, e.g. C for a C major scale, A for an a minor scale and start the drone playing.

Starting at the lowest tonic you can play for the scale, play it against the drone, listening to hear if you are playing above or below the drone pitch, with the aim of matching the pitch of the drone. When you can match the drone and hold that pitch, then play up the scale, slurring, to the next octave. When you arrive at the tonic pitch, check it against the drone as you did for the first note. Do this for all octaves you can play. When you get to the top, then work your way back down, checking and matching all the tonic pitches as you go.

Once you have completed working your way all the way up and all the way down, do it again and ask yourself these intonation questions as you go.

1. How much am I having to adjust as I arrive on each keynote? If I’m making big adjustments, how do I keep that from being necessary?

2. Are the adjustments different for ascending the scale and descending the scale? Why might this be the case? What can I do about this?

Try this for a week, on all the scales you regularly practice, and see what you notice about your intonation. Share your results in comments, Twitter @FlutistDeanna, Facebook etc. I’d love to hear how you do!